A Whirlwind Tour of Kansai

I was only in Japan for three days. That gave me one day in Osaka and one in Kyoto to see castles and shrines, to cruise the city, and learn about the history. And, of course, to eat. The time flew by.

What struck me the most in Osaka and Kyoto was how beautiful everything was. The historic sites were absolutely breathtaking. And I have no words to describe the gardens. Just that it was clear why everyone wants a Japanese garden in their palace, city, or home.thumb_P1140895_1024 thumb_P1140898_1024

I was also stuck by the simplicity that these beautiful structures contained. How could they be ornate and simple, I do not know, but they were. Some of the beautiful places I visited were Osaka Castle, Nijō Castle, and the famous Golden Pavilion, Kinkaku-ji. Each one was also rich in history. Before Tokyo became the capital of Japan, the shogun ruled as military officials throughout the country. These shogun were appointed by the emperor, who lived in Kyoto.  IMG_20150708_123245thumb_P1140885_1024thumb_thumb_P1140890_1024_1024thumb_P1140948_1024

Kyoto is also known as the City of Ten Thousand Shrines. There are many Buddhist and Shinto shrines and temples that are open to visitors. An unexpected favorite of mine was Ryoan-ji, famous for its rock garden. It was a last minute decision for me to even visit, but I am glad I did. The rock garden was indeed wonderful, and just the break I needed in my day. What amazed me was how reflective it made me feel, like I could really sit there and just think.IMG_20150709_151246

While Kyoto has the lion’s share of history, Osaka was full of interesting experiences among the busy streets and tall buildings. One great experience was the view of the city from the Sky Garden. A tall building with a viewing platform, the Sky Garden was pretty much designed for couples. I decided to go anyway. The view at night was spectacular. I got to see the entire city from above. Seeing the castle lit up among all the modern buildings was a special treat.thumb_P1140808_1024

The Sky Tower

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I got a bit of a taste for Japanese culture as well. For one, I stayed in a Japanese style hotel room. The bare room with mat floors and a roll out bed was quite the departure from what I was used to. However, I found that the simplicity was nice and the bed was comfortable. I also got a complementary robe and slippers to wear during my stay. That was awesome. It was so cool to see everyone walking to use the hall bathrooms all wearing the same robes. It felt like I was at wizard school or something.

My roll-out bed

Slippers and robe!

I also rode the subway. It was a very different experience from subway riding that I was used to. For one, it was more crowded during rush hour. I didn’t even know that many people could fit on the subway. Due in part to the packed trains at rush hour, many lines had cars that were women only. All of the ads inside were for really girly things. But the biggest difference I thought was how quiet the subway was. Even with tons of people, no one spoke. It made riding such a pleasant experience.

And, of course, I ate the food. Seafood is incredibly popular in Japan, so I tried fried octopus on my first day. It was good. It tasted like most other deep fried things, a little fishy, and was kind of chewy. I also had Okonomiyaki, or Japanese pancake. There was shrimp in the actual batter, so the whole thing had a slightly fishy taste, but was really good. Both the octopus and the Okonomiyaki were covered in a brown sauce that packed a big punch of umami flavor. (That’s what makes meaty things taste good). It is apparently a hugely popular sauce in Japan, but I found it kind of overwhelming.thumb_P1140702_1024IMG_20150708_184817

For sweets the most popular flavor is matcha, or green tea. I tried a few things, but found that the ice cream was the best. Baked goods also came in a variety of flavors I had never heard of before, like red bean and purple sweet potato. Those were phenomenal, however, and I thoroughly recommend them. Many mornings back in the US, I wish I could pick up a red bean bun.thumb_P1140723_1024

My red bean bun

My red bean bun

Purple sweet potaoe

Purple sweet potato

My three days in Japan were an intense cultural and historical immersion. I am so grateful that I got to go. Lots of things were very different from what I was used to, but that is the fun part. And the beauty of Kansai will be on my mind for quite awhile.thumb_P1140697_1024